Over a year after their scheduled working date, nearly half of Georgetown’s new blue-light emergency call boxes remain inoperative.

David Morrell, vice president for university safety, said last Friday that 21 of the 38 new call boxes are working while 17 remain unusable and covered by black plastic sheeting. Twenty-seven of the university’s old white call boxes are still working and six of them are next to currently inoperable new call boxes, Morrell said.

Several additional new call boxes were taken down during construction projects or were accidentally toppled by construction trucks, he said.

The new boxes were originally scheduled to be installed last September but technical problems delayed them from immediately going online.

According to Karen Frank, vice president for university facilities and student housing, many of the boxes have had problems with unreliable battery backups that have caused them to receive insufficient charges and fail. She added that “there have also been a few cell phone problems.”

The emergency call boxes operate by sending cellular signals to the Department of Public Safety whenever someone presses a special emergency button.

The university’s facilities department is responsible for ensuring the call boxes’ installation, although DPS has jurisdiction over all of the phones that are operational.

Frank said SST, the company that the university contracted to install the boxes, is working to get all of them operational as soon as possible.

“They’re not shying away from responsibility, they’re right here with us,” she said.

SST project manager Kurt Burneskit declined comment when contacted by phone Thursday.

Although university officials have progressively pushed back their final installation date, neither Frank nor Morrell could say when all of the boxes would go online.

But even as officials labor to make them work, one expert said Thursday that when the call boxes do become operational, they may not significantly increase campus safety.

“Maybe they’re a visual deterrent but I’m not sure how much good these blue light phones really do,” said Catherine Bath, the executive director of Security on Campus, a campus safety advocacy group. “Maybe the university should think more about smarter things to spend their money on, like more surveillance cameras.”

Bath called the call boxes “an anachronism” and said that students who need help often find it easier to use cellular phones to contact authorities in an emergency.

For his part, Morrell called the boxes “important” last week and he said that the university campus remained safe.

“We look forward to time when all the boxes are fully operational and in the meantime, we will continue to keep the university community as safe as possible,” he said. “We want the system to perform at a consistently high level.”

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